Day 20: The Problem with the Wordless Book {31 Days of #WOKE}

“The black represents sin, red is the blood of Jesus, which brings us to the next bead—white, when we are washed clean of our sin.”

We sat in pairs and prepared to share the gospel by color. I was 16 and going on my first mission trip to Costa Rica. Our church youth group had practiced our mime for months—an allegory of the story of Jesus–and our bags were loaded with extra Bibles in Spanish. We all memorized some basic Spanish so we could share the gospel as we gave away bracelets with colored beads, called “Power Bands.”

This method of evangelism, a bracelet version of the “Wordless Book” has been an evangelistic tool since the end of the nineteenth century. It is said to have been invented by the famous English preacher, Charles Spurgeon. In this method, each color represents an aspect of the gospel. The Teen Missions website gives the following guide:

Each color of the Wordless Book / Wordless Bracelet represents an important Bible truth about Salvation

BLACKSin  Romans 3:23 | All have sinned

RED Blood  I John 1:7 | Jesus’ blood covers all sin

WHITE Pure Psalm 51:7 | Jesus washes away confessed sin

YELLOW Heaven John 14:2 | Believe on Jesus and receive Eternal Life

GREEN Grow 2 Peter 3:18 | Grow in the knowledge of the Lord

In a sermon delivered in 1866, Spurgeon read the verse : “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps. 51:7), then shared:

“There is something about this in the text, for the person who used this prayer said, “Wash me,” so he was black and needed to be washed; and the blackness was of such a peculiar kind that a miracle was needed to cleanse it away, so that the one who had been black would become white, and so white that he would be “whiter than snow.”

If I were in the presence of an African American as this sermon was delivered, I would certainly be cringing every time the word “black” was spoken.

The imagery of purity being associated with the color white and sin or evil being associated with the color black is commonplace in western culture. But what is happening at the level of our subconscious when we associate “black” with sin and “white” with purity and then turn around and categorize one another as “white” and “black”?

I can hear the naysayers now:

“Don’t be so touchy.”

“Does everything have to be about race?”

But as a mother, I have to wonder what my children internalize when they are taught that black is sin and white is purity.  Which color would you rather be?

Perhaps it is time to abandon the Wordless Book.

If you were (or are) a person of color, how would it make you feel to sing the following song (as is recommended by websites advocating the Wordless Book):

“Wordless Book” Song by Frances M. Johnston

(Show the colors as you sing.) 

(Black) My heart was dark with sin until the Savior came in.

(Red) His precious blood I know

(White) Has washed it white as snow.

(Gold) And in His Word I’m told I’ll walk the streets of gold.

(Green) To grow in Christ each day I read the Bible and pray.

Along with the fact that this method implies that black is bad and white is good, another problem with the Wordless Book is that our associations with color are not universal. When I lived in China, for example, I learned that white is the color of death and used in funerals and red symbolizes good fortune. In this regard, short term missionaries can sometimes do more harm than good when they fail to study language and culture before trying to share Christ in a foreign land.

We can do damage when we assume our western symbols are universal. Using the Wordless Book in a place like China would be nothing more than confusing (which is interesting since according to Wikipedia at least, it was used by China Inland Mission and missionary Hudson Taylor in China).

Open-air preaching in China using the Wordless Book

So what are some alternatives?

Rather than using colors, some people use the metaphors of being “dirty” and “clean,” utilizing object lessons like a dirty T-shirt washed clean to present the truth of salvation. Another alternative is to use the more biblical language of “light” and “darkness” when talking about sin and salvation. Though the Bible uses the word “white” in reference to purity, it never uses the word “black” to describe sin. The closest the Bible comes to color-coding sin is in Isaiah 1:18 that says “Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”

God can and does use even our faulty methods to share His love. But if there is any chance that our methods offend, confuse, belittle or perpetuate stereotypes, then perhaps we should abandon them for the sake of unity.

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

Images: 1) Bracelets  2) Open-air preaching in China

I Tried to Run Away from Love {for (in)courage}

My Love Story

The first time I ever had a date on Valentine’s Day, I was 31 years old. It ended up being the hinge upon which my entire life turned.

Wildly independent, when other girls in college were hoping to snag a man and get their ring by spring, I turned my nose up at them, determined to do something “more” with my life. I wasn’t going to tie myself to a man who would hold me back from all God had planned for me (and I was sure I was destined for Christian Rockstar status).

And so I successfully avoided serious relationships, teaching in the inner city of Chicago and then moving to China to teach English and study Chinese. Although I was lonely at times, I was sure God could bring me a man who was also called to the same area of China I was if that was what He wanted. Until then, I could make singleness work.

But in the middle of my fifth year in China, I was blindsided.

I returned to the states for a wedding and “happened” to carpool with a guy on the way to a lake cottage with a group of friends for the weekend. Convinced God wanted me to marry a man also called overseas, I ignored my growing attraction to this guy with the piercing blue eyes and baritone voice—an actor in Chicago—at least until the ride home.

Oh no, I thought as we talked, laughed, and connected like old friends at the end of the weekend. As we dropped him off, he asked for my phone number and wasted little time in making sure we spent hours “hanging out” over the next two weeks before I flew back to China.

He asked me out for Valentine’s Day the night before I was supposed to leave. Cradling cappuccinos, we finally talked about “us.” What were we doing and what were we going to do?

He had plans—had researched—how to do long distance relationships well. Over Skype we could read books, watch movies, have “dates,” and even play computer games simultaneously. He would come visit me in China, of course.

And he did.

We got engaged after four months of a long-distance relationship where we talked for five hours every other day, read books together and wrote letters, then scanned them in because letters seemed more authentic than emails which could be overly polished. We were married by the following Valentine’s Day.

As I feared, marriage and missions have been mutually exclusive for me. This year is the seventh Valentine’s we are spending together and we’ll most likely get a babysitter for our three littles so we can have an hour or two of peace together involving pasta, candlelight, and coffee.

Our life is not radical, exotic or original, but our love is real and I have no doubt it was God’s intention to derail my pretty plans for myself in favor of blowing me away with His plans for me …

Continue reading at (In)Courage.

 

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No Longer Heaven’s Hero {review of ‘Dangerous Territory’ + Book Giveaway}

Who wouldn’t want to be heaven’s hero? Why would anyone willingly choose the “white picket fence” life over an exotic life guaranteed to be exciting and eternally meaningful? And if giving up everything to move across the world is clearly more holy, why would anyone claiming to love Jesus choose anything less?

That’s what I used to think, so I was delighted to find I wasn’t alone.

Amy Peterson’s debut book, Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, is a memoir about the two years she lived in Southeast Asia and the fallout she experienced after sharing her faith in a country closed to evangelism. With clarity, poetry and engaging story-telling, Amy chronicles the deconstruction and reconstruction of her faith after her idealism is obliterated.

With an academic background in intercultural studies, Amy weaves the history of missions and cultural analysis throughout the book, occasionally interrupting her narrative with fascinating essays about missions. Zooming out from her story during these brief interludes allows the reader to position Amy’s personal narrative into the larger picture puzzle of missions, past and present.

As a writer over fifteen years later, Amy regards her younger, idealistic self with the mercy of a wise mentor, neither criticizing nor judging, but sharing her thoughts as she remembers them. She gently offers her reader a glimpse into some fallacies young Jesus-followers can fall prey to. She also challenges many assumptions about Christian life, ministry and missions made by the church at large. Amy transparently shares her personal grief, loss, hope and doubt in hopes the reader will take her hand on the road and learn right along with her.

***

Though I was sent to China instead of Southeast Asia, reading Amy’s book was like viewing a stranger through a window and mistaking her for myself. Our stories bear so much resemblance, Amy saved me hours I might have spent writing a very similar book.

I was with the same organization, lived in a very remote area with one teammate, completed the same masters program, spent time at the same places in Thailand during our yearly conference and had crushes on boys in my program (though not the same ones). I also walked away from my time overseas with more questions than answers. After five years in China, I—a goer with no intention of staying in the states–returned home to get married and give up my status as Church Darling. The missionary invitations, inquiries and special treatment stopped abruptly and—like Amy—I wondered, “What if God didn’t want me to be useful? Could I surrender to that? Was I willing to be useless for God?” (182).

It’s humbling to give up our “heaven’s hero” status when we feel we’re stepping into the status quo.

But I have come to similar conclusions in my quest for a special calling, purpose and meaningful life. Namely, that our calling begins and ends with love. Our first call isn’t to China, Africa, Southeast Asia, missions, marriage or motherhood. Our primary calling is to intimacy with Jesus Christ. All other callings will fade, shift, surge and grow through the seasons of our life, but that calling will sustain us for our entire lives and even beyond.

***

If you or someone you know is interested in spending any amount of time overseas, I would highly recommend this book as a vulnerable account of a modern day twenty-something (not an overly-romanticized missionary biography), who left home with good intentions and returned with a greater awareness of the fact that she wasn’t loved more because she was willing to go, but began and ended as an adored child of God.

Or perhaps you feel that going abroad is only for the holy? Although Amy clearly had a strong faith, her story reveals that God doesn’t send heroes, he sends the ordinary. He sends the willing. And He sends them not to change the world, but to catch a glimpse of His love for the world first-hand. In her conclusion, Amy admonishes missionary-hopefuls: “Don’t go because you want to save the world—go because you want to learn to love it. Go because you know that you are loved” (217).

***

I have an extra copy of Amy’s book that I would love to share with you! Leave a thoughtful comment on this post sometime between 2/7/17 and 2/14/17 (by midnight, U.S. Mountain Time) and I’ll enter you to win a free copy of Dangerous Territory. I’ll announce the winner on 2/15/17 and get it in the mail to you ASAP!

Have you ever been on a quest to save the world? How did that work out for you?

~Leslie

BUY THE BOOK HERE. (Right now it is only available on Kindle, but print copies should be available soon.)